Why Airplanes Make You Sick

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

December 17, 2018

Several weeks ago I met with a patient who recently arrived home after a 14 hour flight.

The poor guy was miserable. His skin was bad. He was dehydrated, constipated, bloated, fatigued and suffering severe muscle spasms.

His immediate thought was that he had contracted some sort of deadly disease during his overseas travels. But it was much simpler than that.

  • After sitting for hours on end at high flight elevations, excess fluid had become trapped in his body tissue.
  • He didn’t want to keep getting up to urinate on the flight. So he limited his beverage intake and ended up dehydrated.
  • Gassiness was a big concern. His intestines felt like they wanted to explode.
  • When his flight landed he was in a rush. This big fellow exerted himself by jogging through the hot, humid South Florida airport parking lot to get to his next appointment – pulling his heavy luggage closely behind.

All of this created the perfect storm for a somewhat rare case of rhabdomyolsis – a catastrophic condition where muscle fibers breakdown and leak damaging proteins into the bloodstream.

When these proteins are shuttled into the kidneys it shuts them down.

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After a few touch-and-go moments, we rehydrated him and got his electrolytes back in order. Then, I placed him on a few supplements and an 85% plant-based diet geared to increase his circulation and improve kidney function.

I’ve been working with this man for awhile now and stopped by his house to see him the other night.

I couldn’t be happier with the results. His energy levels are back to normal. Muscle function is restored. He even lost a few pounds during the process.

While this is an extreme case of flight syndrome, it’s also a cautionary tale that anyone who “flies the friendly skies” should take to heart.

Being trapped on an airplane for hours on end is nothing like sitting at your desk.

First of all, you’re flying in a cabin filled with compressed air. It literally sucks the moisture and much-needed electrolytes out of your body. (High altitude makes matters even worse. At 30,000 feet, you lose somewhere around a pint of water from your body every 30 to 60 minutes.)

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Second, remember that when you fly you’re sitting in a huge tub of germs. It’s like being trapped in a petri dish, but worse. When you lose moisture in your eyes, nose, mouth and skin, you develop micro-breaks in the tissue. This makes it extremely easy for bacteria and viruses to set up house in your body.

Third, aircraft cabins are generally set at about 75% of atmospheric pressure. This lowers the oxygen levels in your blood and can make you feel tired, off-balance and headachy.

Fourth, as the air pressure in the cabin drops it causes the gasses in your body to expand. This leads to bloating, constipation and gassiness. At the same time, sitting for a long period time can cause blood to pool in your legs and feet. So it’s not uncommon to get off of a plane feeling more like a beach-ball than a human being.

It’s no wonder so many people feel weak, achy and exhausted for weeks after flying… or why so many end up suffering a flight-acquired cold or flu for the next seven to 14 days. Or longer.

How to Stay Healthy on Your Holiday Flight

Give your immune response a big boost. One of the first things I do in the days before flying is to load up on vitamin C. At high enough levels, it can boost immune response and fight off bacteria and viruses that run rampant in airplane cabins.

recommend 2 grams daily in divided doses. I also boost with 2 grams just before or after getting on the plane as a short term antiviral. Emergen-C packets are my favorite; they go in the water you have to drink anyway…. you know, two birds one stone.

Avoid moisture-sapping foods. Stay away from alcohol, caffeinated beverages and salty foods prior to and during your flight. These all act as diuretics and dehydrate you even further. (Plus, keep in mind drinking alcohol suppresses oxygen absorption, which is already a concern when flying.)

Prevent in-flight gassiness and bloating. Carbonated beverages, beans, cruciferous veggies and dairy are all “gassy” foods. If you eat them pre-flight, it can increase bloating during your flight. So it’s a good idea to pass up on these in the 24 hours before you hit the skies.

Walk, walk and walk some more. Airline attendants like to keep you tethered to your seat so they know exactly where everyone is and what they are doing. Buck the system! Take a walk up and down the aisle every 30 minutes or so. It will help keep blood from collecting in your lower extremities.

Stay hydrated. Don’t count on in-flight services to come around often enough to support your water intake. Depending on the amount of time you expect to spend in the air, purchase one or two liters of water after passing security and drink about eight ounces every 30-60 minutes. (If you have to pee more than the other passengers, so be it…you have to get up and walk anyway. You’ll come home all the healthier for it!)

Go for the healthy snacks. Pass up on the chips, peanuts and other moisture-robbing food options that may be offered on your flight. Instead, choose the fruit or veggie option. Better yet, pick up a nice fruit salad or veggie wrap just before boarding.

A nasal spray with saline (I like the Ocean brand )  and natural tears eye drops will offer further protection to keep your most vulnerable mucous membranes moist and actively protecting you.

Every little bit of fortification can help keep you safe, healthy and happy on your holiday journeys.

SOURCES:

Pommergaard HC, et al. Flatulence on airplanes: just let it go. N Z Med J. 2013 Feb 15;126(1369):68-74.

Vitamin C As An Antiviral: It’s All About Dose. Press Release. Orthomolecular Medicine News Service. Dec 2009.

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